Many people throughout the world have traditionally believed that women's natural roles were as mothers and wives and considered women to be better suited for childbearing and homemaking than for involvement in the public life of business or politics. This popular belief that women were somehow intellectually inferior to men, based in large part on religious authority, has led many societies throughout the world to limit women's education to learning domestic skills and relegating them to a second-class citizen status. By and large, the world has been run by well-educated, upper-class men who controlled most positions of employment and power in these societies and to a large extent continue to do so today. While the status of women today varies dramatically in different countries and, in some cases, among groups within the same country, such as ethnic groups or economic classes, women continue to experience the effects of this oppressive religious dogma as it relates to their lives. Violence against women in many cases is legitimized by religious authority which gives men the legal authority to discipline women. When domestic violence spills over into the mistreatment of children, though, there are other and more fundamental issues involved. As a result, domestic violence and children is a subject of importance for both scientific inquiry and social policy formation, since the family is a universal social framework for the bearing and care of children. Families are the systems within which cultural traditions, beliefs, and values are taught to children. Both social and environmental contexts have a great deal to do with the formation of future patterns of behavior and susceptibility to mental health issues, which may further affect behavior.
For human beings, prior experiences, motivations, and the context within which various experiences happen all influence a person's response to numerous things, including the development of various mental health problems.
The past few decades have seen the social sciences focusing more and more upon the context, as well as the immediate causes, of the mistreatment of children, as well as the developmental consequences of such abuse over the long-term (Gelles & Lanaster, 1987). This project is important in the context of further establishing whether there is a direct relationship between certain types of mental health problems and childhood sexual and/or physical abuse, through a more qualitative examination of the context as well as the data itself.
Domestic violence is recognized as rising to the higher levels on today's list of worldwide public health problems posing a serious threat to both the psychological and physical well-being of women and children across a wide range of socioeconomic, racial and cultural groups (Flett, Kazantzis, Long, Macdonald & Millar, 2000). Although specific population-based research is so far lacking, the data that is available points to the fact that between 20% and 50% of women in most countries around the world today have been abused at some point in their lives (Heise, Raikes, Watts, & Zwi, 1994).
Domestic violence has been clearly linked as significant risk factor to a plethora of health risks to children, including but not limited to, low birth weight (Bullock & McFarlane, 1989). Victims of crime and other various types of disasters seem to suffer common responses, including anger, shock, confusion, fear, and anxiety. In fact, as a result of violence, a person's view of the world often is dramatically altered. In a recent book, Janoff-Bulman notes that "most of us, before suffering from trauma, believe that the world is benevolent and meaningful, and that we are worthy people" (Janoff-Bulman, 1992, p. 6).
Since everyone needs stability in their view of the world, these beliefs are generally quite resistant to change. However, events that threaten a person's survival cause a different view of the world to evolve. Assumptions can literally be shattered when people are exposed to traumatic situations and be replaced by new and negative assumptions. Domestic violence is especially horrifying and even mind-altering, given that a victim's former place of refuge and safety now causes extreme anxiety (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).
Child victims seldom have an alternative to remaining in the violent home, probably being dependent upon the abusive parent. Several studies have shown that since parents are normally the ones who provide the necessary assistance for children to interpret their experiences and turn them into lessons about life, the child's sense of self and their worldview may be seriously damaged or even destroyed by an abusive parent (Belsky & Vondra, 1989; Janoff-Bulman, 1992).
Victims of violence that has been perpetrated by a family member are frequently overcome by feelings of low self-esteem and depression (Friedrich & Einbender, 1983). Preschool and young school-aged children, have not yet developed a strong sense of self (Livesley & Bromley, 1973) and are not generally going to attribute what happens to them to their own personality or character. However, they do seem to believe that bad things that happen to them are the direct result of something they did wrong (Piaget, 1965).
Young children look to their parents as role models on how to react to things that happen in life. Therefore, an abusive mother or father wields great power over their child's thinking. When parents demean children or suggest that the child is the cause of the violence against them, young children will probably adopt that viewpoint as being true (Larrance & Twentyman, 1983). Several studies of traumatic maltreatment in childhood show that this may cause post-traumatic stress symptoms (Briere, 1992; Famularo, Fenton, Kinscherff, Ayoub & Barnum, 1994).
The beliefs and behaviors that are symptomatic of post-traumatic stress may then become chronic, eventually turning into overtly antisocial and criminal behavior in adulthood. At least two studies have shown that victimized children are indeed at an increased risk of later antisocial and criminal behavior (Luntz & Widom, 1994; Widom, 1991). The majority of researchers into child abuse are certain that it has multiple, and frequently, severe consequences for its victims.
In examining the socio-emotional consequences of the physical abuse of children, Egeland and Sroufe conducted a study in which they clearly asserted that "in the area of socio-emotional development, even the obvious is often difficult to demonstrate Uncovering the developmental consequences of child abuse is a prime example Yet, no one can doubt that there are consequences of being physically abused" (Egelund and Sroufe, 1981, p. 77).
The literature reveals that some of the consequences of child abuse include death, permanent disability, developmental delay, speech and learning problems, impaired attachment relations, self- and other-directed aggression, psychosis (notably multiple personalities), juvenile delinquency, depression, deficient social skills, and sexual dysfunction. In a comprehensive study of the consequences of abuse and neglect, Martin identified three major areas of problems. The first is medical, ranging from nutritional lacks to hearing loss and brain damage). The second is developmental, encompassing mental retardation, language deficiencies and impaired motor skills. The third is psychological, from being either very shy and inhibited or very aggressive and provocative to general unhappiness, poor attachment skills, and inadequate relationships with peers (Martin, 1980).
One idea is that a pattern develops whereby the damaged child receives responses from outside that simply reinforce the damage.
A number of studies indicate that causal relationships between child abuse and adult psychological disorders exist, including depression, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, personality disorders, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders and dissociative disorders (Beitchman, Zucker, Hood, DaCosta, Ackaman & Cassavia, 1992; Briere, Berliner, Bulkley, Jenny, & Reid, 1996). Another New Zealand-based study found that even after controlling for variables related to various other childhood disadvantages, the relationships between child sexual abuse and many other disorders presenting themselves at or after the age of 18 are significant (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynskey, 1996).
A review of 15 studies, encompassing a total of 817 female in-patients, indicated that 44% of these patients reported childhood physical abuse, 50% reported childhood sexual abuse, and 64% had suffered from either CSA or CPA (Read, 1997). Male in-patients also stated significantly higher rates of child abuse than did men in the general population (Rose, Peabody, & Stratigeas, 1991). A community survey of New Zealand women determined that the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and the likelihood of becoming an inpatient at some point in the future is obvious, even after controlling for other factors that could be responsible (Mullen, Martin, Anderson, Romans & Herbison, 1993).
Child abuse also seems to be related to the various psychotic symptoms and diagnoses of schizophrenia (Bryer, Nelson, Miller, & Krol, 1987; Read, 1997; Read, Perry, Moskowitz & Connolly, 2001; Ross, Anderson, & Clark, 1994). A New Zealand study determined that 77% of adult psychiatric in-patients who stated that they had suffered from either childhood sexual or physical abuse went on to experience hallucinations, delusions or thought disorder. The content of about fifty percent of these symptoms seemed to be related to the childhood abuse (Read & Argyle, 1999).
Yet another New Zealand study conducted with 200 adult outpatients, noted that child abuse is a significant forecaster of…